04. 30. 2008. 10:14

"Maybe I deserve it..."

An interview with Bret Easton Ellis in Budapest

"As a writer this is what I’ve been interested in exploring: people buying into the things that society demands of them and then getting damaged by that."

You have come to Hungary to receive the Budapest Grand Prize (previous recipients include Umberto Eco, Günter Grass and Mario Vargas Llosa). What does receiving it mean to you?
I’ve received so few prizes that I’m not sure how to react. It’s nice. Somewhat humbled to be in such company. But then again I’m very self-critical so… maybe I deserve it and just don’t realize it.
Sometimes you sum up the essence of your books with the words ”The world sucks”. Does it suck even more today than back in the 80s when you started your career?
Well, the basic nature of man never changes. The clothing changes, the lifestyles change, but man and his appetites don’t change. So when you ask me if I still think the world sucks—well, it does. And why does it? Because of how man is built. The flaw of life is that we’re emotional creatures and so we tend to feel deeply about things that are beyond our control (hunger, desire, love, death, aging, pain) and we become damaged. Yet we’re always trying to stop the inevitable with coping mechanisms which often just intensify our suffering. In many ways people numb themselves to what society expects of them and it’s usually the beginning of their downward spiral. As a writer this is what I’ve been interested in exploring: people buying into the things that society demands of them and then getting damaged by that.
Does it bother you when people react to your books negatively?
It depends on the person. If it’s someone I respect—it can bother me. Usually, it doesn’t. I don’t write for praise. No writer should.
Don’t you think there are too many readers who like your books because of the violence and not because you abhor that violence?
Of course. But I’m not thinking of readers when I write a book. I’m thinking of myself and I’m thinking about the book. So if someone has read the book for whatever reasons and responded to something—making it the focus of the book whether it was my intention to do so or not—there’s nothing I can do. The book has its own life after it goes out into the world and you have no control over how people interpret it.
And what about your fans? Do you like to read blogs and chats about your works on the internet?
I like my fans. Even if I’ve been accused of not trying to gain any. Occasionally I will read blogs. Friends send me things they’ve found on the net about my work or myself and I usually read them. Sometimes it’s depressing. Sometimes it cheers me up.
Lunar Park is much more personal than any of your previous novels. You tried to exorcise your own demons in it. Is your subconscious more relaxed now, after that novel?
Well, you can’t control the subconscious and you use it constantly in your writing—it guides you—so I don’t think it’s relaxed (I hope not) but I can say that certain stressful, unresolved feelings I had about my father and about being a novelist were, well, resolved. I guess that’s called acceptance.
What are you working on right now?
I am writing a sequel to Less Than Zero. It’s called Imperial Bedrooms and is slated to be published sometime in 2010.
Which is your favourite out of all your books?
It changes, I guess. But I’d probably say Glamorama
And who is your favourite character from your novels?
That changes, too. I liked Victor Ward. But Patrick Bateman obviously interested me a lot and has somehow defined me as a writer in both good and bad ways. His brother, Sean Bateman, is an enigma of sorts and I’d like to write about him again at some time, though it’s doubtful. I like Blair from Less Than Zero and Lauren Hynde from The Rules of Attraction as well as Jean, the secretary from American Psycho. I also like all the women from Glamorama and Jane Dennis, the wife in Lunar Park. I’m very fond of my female characters. Many of the characters from The Informers still haunt me: especially Tim Price and the narrator of a story called "On The Beach".
Who is the character you would most like to play in a film?
None of them.
Who is the person from the history of literature with whom you would like to sit down for a drink and chat?
For characters: Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary; perhaps Nick Carraway, Frederic Moreau, any number of the women from Austen; As for writers: Flaubert, Tolstoy, George Eliot, Melville, Dostoyevsky—if he was having a good day. But many of my favorite writers are not people I would want to hang out with and the same goes for certain famous characters (I would not want to spend any time with Holden Caulfield or Jake Barnes or Captain Ahab or Lolita or Humbert). There are very good writers that I would avoid at cocktail parties in New York, and some not-so-very-good writers who became close friends—and I’m not naming names.
Are there books which you reread from time to time?
There are very few because there are so many new books being published that I want to read. Flaubert, The Great Gatsby, Lolita, parts of Ulysses, The Sun Also Rises. The journalism and fiction of the American writer Joan Didion. Raymond Chandler. And I suppose my own novels. But rarely.
Miklós M. Nagy

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